For The Love Of The Game

For The Love Of The Game

You’ve probably heard baseball is a romantic sport and though some games have all of the excitement of a bad paperback love story sold at Walgreens, this game was the first love for a lot of us.

I identify with baseball more than any other sport. It was the sport of choice in my West Pullman neighborhood, we played in the street, we played in the cul de sac (“The Circle”), on 123rd Street, we played in the “Tot Lot” on 125th Street.

Once I started attending Seven Holy Founders Elementary School in nearby Calumet Park, we played at lunch and after school in the parking lot on 124th Street if we had to, or in Father Denehey Field (also on 124th Street), when we had enough people for a full team.

I was seven years old in 1983 when the White Sox won “Winning Ugly” and eight years old the next September when the Cubs won their division on a weeknight in Pittsburgh.

When the opportunity came to be the equipment manager for the freshman baseball team when I was in high school at Brother Rice I jumped at it.

That picture is our team picture (1991), a great group of guys and coaches there.

People (not associated with the team), called me “waterboy” the other brothas thought I shouldn’t do it but man that was some of the best time of my life. I learned the game, served my teammates, got to see the other Catholic League Schools and be part of a winning team.

I kept score, chased foul balls in parking lots, warmed up pitchers in the full catchers gear (“tools of the ignorant"), and when we were a man down in practice I played catch with the players and shagged outfield balls hit by the extraordinary Coach Jim Antos.

The game taught me so much, how to prepare, I got equipment ready for the guys, made sure we were set for practices and games, whatever was needed and the coaches said I did it.

You can call it subservient but I was honoring the game.

A game my grandfather loved to death, he took me to my first games on the “el”, Cubs and Sox. My mother loves the game too, back then you could get tickets from the Chicago Public library, my brother Kevin went too.

After our season at Brother Rice we were rewarded with tickets to one of first games at then new Comiskey Park (now US Cellular Field), and got to stand in the hallway and look across 35th Street at the old stadium.

Despite my freshman year at Rice was one of the most racially charged (in 1991 there were two proms, black and white), and I was the only African American in any of the three levels of baseball, no one in baseball gave me anything but love.

So I could I not love the game?

I’ve been to Arizona twice for spring training (Thanks Marty & Chris), and that same magic is out there, freshly cut grass, new players, new equipment, no one has a losing record yet. The hot dogs taste great, the lemon ice is even better. You gotta try the Asian rice bowls.

Nothing like a day game at Camelback Ranch in Glendale watching the White Sox or a night game at Salt River Fields (at Talking Stick), watching the Diamondbacks.

I’ve been to a “play in” game (game 163), for the White Sox eight years ago (Thanks Marty Jr.), and witnessed “The Blackout”.

Did I mention I’m a huge fan of the Negro Leagues and the history of the segregated game. I respect what those brothas went through.

My hero is Jackie Robinson (the field at his alma mater UCLA is named for him), and he did so much for the game and for all of us African Americans.

Having been involved in the game and I’m “the only one of us” out there it can be challenging. But like him I had great teammates and coaches and even 25 years later, my love of the game is a fresh as the newly manicured outfield.

I’d be remiss not to mention my local independent minor league team the Joliet Slammers, its baseball at its purest. We locals come out to check out the team and all the antics of the mascots and in between inning entertainment.

But it’s good baseball too right in the neighborhood and reminds you of why we follow this game, because it’s fun.
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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email charles.w.johnson@hotmail.com

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